Two years ago, an explosive fire caused by a rail tanker car carrying crude oil took 47 lives and destroyed much of the downtown Québec city of Lac Megantic. A number of nonfatal fires involving oil-carrying trains have followed, most recently this year in Illinois and North Dakota. These incidents have raised safety concerns on both sides of the border, as well as this question: What can governments do to prevent the accidents from occurring? This spring, a mix of new federal and state standards were unveiled that set new rules for tanker cars and what is being loaded on them.
A year ago, officials from all three branches of South Dakota government began taking a close, critical look at the state’s juvenile justice system. The working group didn’t like what it saw. “What we found is that South Dakota was an outlier nationally,” Sen. Alan Solano says. “While juvenile commitments were declining,” he adds, “South Dakota had the second-highest incarceration rate in the country in 2011, a rate of 385 youth per 100,000.” Further, that high commitment rate was not connected to a correspondingly high rate of violent crime, and South Dakota’s juvenile offenders were staying longer in out-of-home placements than they had in the past. Those placements were costly (anywhere from $41,000 to $144,000 per bed); were often for misdemeanors, probation violations and status offenses (such as truancy and underage drinking); and were not necessarily effective in treating young people (community-based supervision tends to yield better results).
The United States and Canada signed a preclearance agreement in March that will allow people traveling from one country to the other to be prescreened before they cross the border. When fully implemented, thisAgreement on Land, Rail, Marine, and Air Transport will allow U.S. agents to be stationed in Canada (and Canadian agents in the United States) and to carry out immigration, customs and agriculture inspections of people entering the U.S. from Canada by any mode of transportation.
A preclearance program for airline passengers is already in place at eight of the largest Canadian airports; it will be expanded under the new accord.
The busiest commercial border crossing in North America may finally be on its way to expansion. On February 18, the U.S. and Canadian governments and the state of Michigan announced an agreement to build and operate a new U.S. customs plaza, one of the last major hurdles to the construction of a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.
Moving workers across the United States’ northern border can be a challenge, one that interferes with a person’s ability to obtain a temporary job and can impact business operations as well. But both the United States and Canada are taking steps to fix this problem, with the dual goals of easing skills shortages in certain economic sectors and giving unemployed workers more options.
In the 20 years since the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect, trade between the United States and Canada has tripled, but those gains have occurred despite ongoing — and often unnecessary — hurdles to cross-border business, according to a recent study by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives. “The report is striking because it acknowledges that the NAFTA objective of a single market for goods and services hasn’t been achieved,” notes Christopher Sands, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.
Moving cattle and pigs from North Dakota to Saskatchewan or from Manitoba to Minnesota has always required a lot of paperwork, but until recently, that didn’t slow the movement of animals between Canada and the United States. Because of the two countries’ highly integrated systems, animals have regularly traveled across the U.S.-Canada border for feeding and slaughter.
But a U.S. policy enacted as part of some recent farm bills appears to be inhibiting this movement. Mandatory country-of-origin labeling, or COOL, requires meat from outside the United States to be labeled — and thus segregated during the production process. These rules began to take effect in 2009.
More than 100 years ago, the state of Wisconsin started what has since become an indispensable part of the daily work of state legislatures — the nonpartisan legislative service agency. From bill drafting to a host of research services, agency staff help make the legislative process work in capitols across the country, as political scientist Gary Moncrief noted this summer in a presentation to the Midwest’s state legislators.
Since the 1970s, he said, state legislatures have been professionalized and their role in public policy enhanced thanks to a series of reforms, among them a rise in legislative staff. For example, between 1979 and 2009, the median number of legislative staff per member of the legislature has risen from 2.7 to 3.9. (That also includes partisan staff and staff for individual legislators.)
In early October, a facility in the province of Saskatchewan became the first commercial-scale coal-fired plant with carbon capture and storage capability in the world. The Boundary Dam Power Station is run by SaskPower, a crown corporation — meaning it is owned by the provincial government but operates like a private company. The plant uses clean coal technology to prevent most of its carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide emissions from being released into the atmosphere
In the largest binational trading relationship in the world, no crossing matters more than the link between Detroit and Windsor, Canada. Currently, about 25 percent of the goods that move between the United States and Canada do so across the Detroit River via the 85-year-old, privately owned Ambassador Bridge. It is the busiest commercial crossing in North America, and one where users often face long delays and where traffic has steadily risen since the last recession.
A new bridge, the New International Trade Crossing, is scheduled to open by 2020, but as leaders of a group of the Midwest’s state and provincial legislators note, this binational infrastructure project still requires action from the U.S. government.
In a letter sent to President Barack Obama in August, the two chairs and two co-chairs of the Midwestern Legislative Conference Midwest-Canada Relations Committee ask for a federal commitment to support and staff a U.S. customs plaza at the New International Trade Crossing.